Kavik the Wolf Dog, by Walt Morey
I see by the listing of several of our addresses on the flyleaf in my immature handwriting, that I loved this book between the ages of about 10 and 14. As I reread it this week, I was struck by how familiar the beginning scenes were. I wish I knew how many times I read it. Oh, how I loved animal stories!
Charlie One Eye raises sled dogs to sell. The fight and intelligence he sees in the new puppy, several parts wolf, inspire Charlie to make one more attempt at winning the North American Sled Dog Derby in Fairbanks, Alaska. He names the puppy Kavik, Eskimo for wolverine. Two years later, Charlie and Kavik win the race.
George C. Hunter, a wealthy business man, collects objects of interest in the north and ships them home to Seattle. He sees Charlie and Kavik win the North American and pays Charlie $2,000 for Kavik. Hunter puts Kavik on a plane headed for Hunter’s cannery where the dog can then be put on a ship to Washington. The plane crashes before it gets to the cannery, Kavik, in his cage, is thrown from the plane and nearly dies. He is rescued by Andy, a 14-year-old boy, the first person ever to show Kavik affection.
When Hunter comes back to Alaska the next spring, he finds that the dog he thought was dead is alive, strong, and healthy. He insists on taking Kavik home to Washington. Living in a cage, surrounded by the sounds and smells of the city, Kavik can think of nothing but somehow heading north back to the boy. He takes advantage of his first opportunity to escape, which is the start of a 2,000-mile endurance trek.
I suspect that during the time when I was devouring books about animals, these books were exemplifying virtues that I was not seeing in the adults in my life. Couldn’t every lonely, disappointed child do with a dog so devoted that he would risk his life to cross rugged, glacier-filled mountains in order to get back home? Such loyalty, such stamina, such heart!
While the human characters in this story are a bit like unfinished coloring book pages, they are not entirely incidental. Some help shape Kavik’s early life, some help save his life, some are necessary to the success of his journey. Though the people who make Kavik’s life difficult are more selfish and thoughtless than serious “bad guys,” the difference between them and those who behave selflessly and virtuously is clearly defined. Honesty and integrity are highly valued. When it is clear that Kavik is going to recover from the injuries sustained in the plane crash, Andy hopes he won’t have to tell Mr. Hunter. Andy’s dad insists that Kavik rightfully belongs to Mr. Hunter and that they must be completely honest with him and let him decide what to do with his dog. They face the same dilemma again when Kavik finds his way back to them. Andy’s dad, this time firmly on Kavik and Andy’s side, still insists on being completely honest with Mr. Hunter.
Charlie One Eye raised Kavik to be a fighter, but Andy finds out that the plane crash and subsequent suffering have taken the fight out of the dog. When Kavik is confronted by the town’s stray dog pack, he turns tail and runs home, much to Andy’s humiliation. Andy’s dad explains that, because of a tragedy that happened in his own life, he can understand how Kavik could be so beaten down as to lose his courage.
Through the suffering and challenges of the long journey home, driven by his love for the boy, Kavik regains his courage. The enormity of what the dog must have gone through inspires Andy’s dad to stand up to Mr. Hunter and convince him that Kavik belongs in the north and with Andy. The dog’s example also brings Andy’s dad to a place where he knows it is time to overcome his own fear and go back to doing what he once loved.
“This book is dedicated to all young people from six to sixty who have known the love of an animal.” Walt Morey
I don’t remember being bothered by the violence, but when I consider whether or not I can recommend this book to other people’s children, I feel I should advise some caution. The violence is strictly between animals. It is typically short-lived, and is not deliberately graphic, but could be disturbing for sensitive young children.
Kavik is trapped in his cage after the plane crash. A lynx discovers him lying helpless and tears at Kavik through the bars of the cage. For me, I think this is less intense than it might be because at this point in the book, the reader knows that Kavik must survive.
On his way home, Kavik mates with a female wolf. He has to kill another wolf in order to win her. “Then Kavik was on him, and his big jaws found the throat. The wolf fought madly to free himself, but it was useless. Kavik was merciless. He bore the wolf to the ground. His teeth drove deep for the jugular, and found it. He held on for several minutes, even after the wolf had ceased to struggle.”
Kavik and his mate are not together for long before men in an airplane swoop over the pack and shoot several wolves. A short time later, Kavik and his mate are lured into gunshot range by a hunter. She is shot. She is able to run for a while, but the hunter tracks them. She dies just before Kavik is forced by the approaching hunter to leave her.
Kavik has found his courage again when he gets back to Andy’s town. The dog pack goes after him, believing him to be an easy target, and Kavik quickly dispatches the leader.
“Kavik was on him in a flash, driving for the unprotected throat. Blackie let out one startled bleat of surprise and fear; then Kavik’s jaws snapped and ripped. Blackie never regained his feet.”